Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross win beach volleyball bronze

— -- RIO DE JANEIRO -- Devastated. Unable to sleep. Cursing and crying and blaming herself after she fell short of her goal of winning a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.

Staggered by her first beach volleyball loss at the Summer Games, behind by one set in the bronze-medal match and trailing in the second, Kerri Walsh Jennings pulled herself together on the Copacabana sand to become the most decorated beach volleyball player in Olympic history.

"It's crazy what 24 hours can do," Walsh Jennings said after she and April Ross beat Brazil's Talita and Larissa 17-21, 21-17, 15-9 on Wednesday night. "This is a highlight of my athletic career, without a doubt."

Walsh Jennings struggled with her passing throughout the medal round, including Tuesday night, when she and Ross lost to Brazil's second-seeded team. But the three-time champion delivered a pair of blocks for the final two points to clinch the bronze on Wednesday.

After hugging her opponents, Walsh Jennings slapped hands with some courtside volunteers and then found a U.S. cheering section in the corner of the 12,000-seat arena built on the beach that serves as the sport's spiritual home.

Wrapping themselves in an American flag, the partners gave each other another long embrace.

"Devastating is a pretty huge word, but it pretty much captures how I felt last night," Walsh Jennings said. "We came here to be our best, and I was subpar."

The victory left Walsh Jennings with three gold medals and a bronze and broke a tie with former partner Misty May-Treanor for the most medals in Olympic beach volleyball history.

"I think she's the best player that we have for beach volleyball for all [time]," Talita said. "If you ask everybody, everybody will say 'Kerri.'"

With the win, the United States avoided a medal shutout in a sport the nation invented and -- with Brazil -- has dominated since beach volleyball was added to the Olympics in 1996. The U.S. has won six of a possible 12 gold medals in the sport and 10 overall. Brazil has clinched 13 medals, though only two gold, with a chance to add two more in Rio.

With the end of her perfect Olympic beach volleyball record -- Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor lost only one set while sweeping to three gold medals -- the loss Tuesday night left the three-time champion in a funk. Walsh Jennings and Ross said neither of them slept after they lost to Brazil's other team in the semifinal. It was Walsh Jennings' first loss in 27 Olympic beach volleyball matches.

It wasn't until she and Ross arrived at the venue Wednesday and got a pep talk from coach Marcio Sicoli that they were able to refocus on the competition.

"He said, 'This is all about you guys,'" she said, adding that he talked about their children and their families and all the people who have supported them. "He hit the heart. He made it about being your best."

Ross, who earned silver in London, said the bronze-medal game is "the hardest match to play in sports."

"One team is going home empty-handed, and the other is going home with an Olympic medal," she said.

Brazil's loss leaves the home country with two beach volleyball medals on home sand. Agatha and Barbara lost to Germany in the women's championship in the late match and won the silver. Alison and Bruno are in the men's gold-medal match against Italy on Thursday.

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